USA v. Angola preview: Charles Barkley was right about Angola, it is in trouble

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teamusa.jpgThe USA has not had to be an impressive team to win in the group play portion of the FIBA World Championships. They have been so much more skilled and athletic than the teams they faced (save Brazil) that they could basically coast.

But entering the 16-team knockout stage of the World Championships Monday things….

Will remain the same. I mean it’s Angola.

To quote Charles Barkley from the 1992 Dream Team: “I don’t know anything about Angola, but I know they’re in trouble.” (He then proceeded to throw a hard elbow at an Angolan player during a 38-7 USA run, then explained it afterward saying the guy might have thrown a spear at him. Classy.)

Okay, we know a little more about Angola now. We know that they are the six time defending African champions. They beat Germany (sans Dirk) and Jordan to get out of Group A. However Argentina, Serbia and Australia dispatched them with ease.

Angola comes in with one of the worst offenses to advance out of group play, averaging just 68 points on 45 percent shooting and 30 percent from three. The USA defense should be able to shut them down by and large. Also, this is the one team the USA will be taller than, with no Angolan starter over 6’8″.

The USA will win. Kevin Durant will look good. What matters is how things have changed from the somewhat lackluster USA team we saw in its last couple games. They can get away with another of those performances against Angola, but starting the following three games it could cost them dearly (by the finals they will have to be playing well). Did the days off and some practices help? Are they crisp; is there motion in the offense?

Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN’s Chris Sheridan we need to judge this USA team differently than we did the star-studded Beijing Olympic team.

“I would like for them to be youthfully enthusiastic in trying to accomplish something, instead of trying to be perfect. Being perfect is about those other guys,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, comparing this year’s version of Team USA to the superstar-laden Redeem Team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.

“I think you should always look at the team. If we had all the main guys here, then you should nitpick anything because that’s the world they live in. They always have to perform great, but we have a young group,” Krzyzewski said. “I think our guys have done great, and part of it is this is their first experience. We still have five guys who are 21 years old, and I think they’ve been terrific, and now they get a chance to do something that will be a momentous thing for them in their careers if they can get it done.

“Wanting to win, being enthusiastic, loose balls, getting out in passing lanes, that’s how we have to be with them.

That kind of energy will certainly be part of showing they are ready to take big steps in future rounds. But execution will matter as much or more. That is what we need to see.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but also keep an eye on Nick Nurse from Toronto, plus guys such as Jerry Stackhouse and Adrian Griffin.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Raptors honor victims of van attack before Game 5 (photos)

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TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors honored the victims the deadly van attack Monday with a moment of silence Wednesday night before Game 5 of their playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

Players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG as they stood on the court during the tribute and the national anthems that followed:

The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke about the attack after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.

“What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk.”

Guard Kyle Lowry said he was impressed by the actions of Const. Ken Lam, who earned international acclaim for peacefully arresting of suspect Alek Minassian.

“In America he would definitely have been shot up,” Lowry said. “He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”

Coach Dwane Casey was struck by how close the carnage occurred to his own Toronto neighborhood,

“It’s not too far from up the street from where I live,” Casey said.

Casey and his coaches were in the midst of a meeting Monday afternoon when assistant Rex Kalamian’s phone buzzed with someone informing him of the tragedy. The coaches stopped their meeting and turned on a television to find out what had happened.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Casey said. “Just this weekend I was talking to people saying how safe Toronto is, how it’s a melting pot and you don’t have the same crime. Hopefully though, sport can offer a relief, some reprieve.”

Like Casey, Ujiri said he is proud of Toronto’s reputation as a safe, welcoming place.

“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city,” Ujiri said. “It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world.”

Toronto police said the 10 people killed and 14 injured in the attack were “predominantly” women, but have declined so far to discuss a motive. The 25-year-old Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.